Tag Archives: Egypt

June 1: Heart I, Pharaoh’s hard heart.

Someone would have reminded me that June is the month of the Sacred Heart, beloved of Christina, who is much more eloquent on the subject than I could be. My evangelical acquaintances would frown on the devotion as unbiblical, so I wondered, what does the Bible say about the heart?

Unsurprisingly, there are hundreds of references to heart in the Bible. For example, the Book of Exodus, during the story of the Plagues of Egypt, keeps on coming back to the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. You could see this as a chorus device, keeping listeners alert when they have to come in on cue: But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Wait a minute though: Is the Bible saying God influenced Pharaoh on purpose to make him obstinate and unjust? Is that a god I want to believe in?

Dig out my commentary, which tells me that the editors who gave us the accepted version of Exodus were inspired by the idea that the Lord God is the Creator of all things, as Genesis makes clear. It follows that God created Pharaoh, that hard-hearted man. And it’s plainly said that after the seventh plague, that of storms, Pharaoh ‘sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants (9.34).

I think today we would be more careful not to attribute evil to our Creator God, but we do have to face the fact that there is evil in the world, and that it has its insidious effect on our thoughts, words and actions: we too can be selfish and hard-hearted.

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26 March: Saint Joseph in the Desert (XXVII)

This image of the Holy Family comes from Africa, though not Egypt, the part where Joseph led his wife and child at such short notice to preserve Jesus’ life. Although his feastday was last week, we did not want to interrupt Pope Francis’s train of thought by posting this reflection on the 19th. And it sits well just after the Annunciation which took place not long before the Flight into Egypt.

Here is Joseph the refugee, suddenly grown to superhero status, protecting his family with wisdom. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, but the man was not acting alone:

Behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.

Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt. Matthew 2:13-14.

There will be times that we just have to get through, so daunting they may seem before the fact; a truly desert experience. But with God’s grace we become, like Joseph, superheroes for a while, though it may not feel like it, leading our dear ones through the encircling gloom.

I have no doubt that whenever he heard the story of the flight into Egypt, Jesus will have seen his dad as a superhero. Let’s pray for the grace to step up and don the hero’s cloak whenever anyone needs help, even if it’s just a couple of lost souls unsure of how to find their way through town.

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2 February: A meeting in the Cloister

simeon.2

Anna and Simeon, the old people forever in the Temple cloister, were blessed to see and to caress the Baby who was the Salvation of the Lord, the Light of the nations and the Glory of Israel.

Simeon knew this, and he was at peace. But he broke off his song of praise, lapsing into prose to warn Mary of the sword that would pierce her heart; as sharp a sword as any parent feels who sees a child die early or run off the rails through addiction, avarice or broken relationships.

But every child should be a sign of hope. By now, 40 days old, Jesus would be taking notice of the world he is being carried through by his loving parents. He will have felt safe in Simeon’s hands, but he would have registered the sudden emotional switch between the old man’s prayer and his warning advice to Mary; he would have been glad to return to her. She, too, would have been disturbed, but she surely made the effort to be positive for her son.

flight.egypt

She stored all these things in her heart; Joseph, meanwhile, was about to receive another dream, pick up his tools, and lead the family to safety in Cairo, because this child was a sign of hope in dark times.

2nd Image from Missionaries of Africa.

 

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January 28, Review: Extreme Pilgrim

Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim: Reflections on Life, Love and the Soul

Does sitting in one place qualify as being a pilgrim? Perhaps it does if you are a Sussex vicar, and that sitting place is a grotto in the Egyptian desert, home to hermits, monks and nuns since the earliest days of the Church.

Peter Owen Jones borrowed the cave of Father Lazarus, forty-five minutes’ walk from the cell of Saint Anthony, first of the Desert Fathers, to ‘live a very strict life of prayer, eating only one full meal a day.’ (p. ix) And part of this life of prayer was the writing of letters to people who helped make him the man he is today.

These include our would-be master and prince of this world, Satan, who rules by fear. Owen Jones’s signing off with, ‘all my love, Peter’, suddenly makes sense if we remember that ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1John4:19).

Many things seem to have made sense when seen from the perspective of the desert, though at times a sense beyond logical thought, a sense of wonder. What was it you went out to see? A memory of a hedge sparrow’s (or dunnock’s) nest, described in a letter to God.

As you know, for their nests they weave  grass and hair precisely into a small deep bowl, which they line with moss to the point where it shines. And there they were  four varnished blue eggs sitting in this deep smooth green … we were both in a state of wonder and whilst I was alone, I realised I wasn’t alone – you were there in that state of wonder, you were present.’  (p45)

To his adoptive father he writes, ‘It was only when your eldest granddaughter was about three years old that I realised that being a father was something separate: it is a love all of its own’ (p15)

What did you go out to see? A good deal of seeing, of realising, is recorded in this little book. Every chapter represents a challenge that Owen-Jones faced; a chance to realise how other people had influenced his life for better or worse, and to accept himself, his own mortality as well as the loss of family and friends.

My wife read Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim through and enjoyed it almost before I had brought it into the house. I know who I will pass it on to. She’ll have it in time for Lent, and so will you if you buy on line now.

WT

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29 December: The Holy Family

 

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

There always seems to be a romantic air to images of the Holy Family, at least when baby Jesus has become a boy. Here He seems to be concentrating hard, learning poetry by heart – a Psalm, perhaps Ps 22/3, since the shepherd and his sheep are within sight, making for quiet waters. The style of this window suggests it was created before 1967, when the building was acquired by the Catholic community from Ebenezer chapel. 

There are traditional representations of Mary as a girl with her mother, reading together; since we have no Scriptural reference to Mary before her Annunciation, such an image would not have appeared in a Congregational chapel. Mary surely taught Jesus in many ways. and perhaps the artist was sending a message that parents should be teaching their children to read the Bible and learn some verses.

… That is as far as my thoughts had taken me when I went to a funeral of Theresa, someone I probably knew by sight – Saint Thomas’ in Canterbury has the excellent tradition of holding funerals at the daily noontime Mass, so there is always some silent support for the family. At the end her grandson said a few words, describing how she had taken great pride in her role as home-maker: that was her job, she said. She always had time for her grandchildren, hosting them for the summer holidays, walking through the orchards or into the city. Time and good meals! Love was her way.

We parents and grandparents may need lessons from Scripture and stained glass, but – is not this the carpenter’s son? The Gospel writers suggest that Jesus and his family did not stand out as specially different in Nazareth. As the window suggests, Joseph and Mary both played their part in making a home in Cairo and in Nazareth; we talk about those times as ‘the Hidden Life’. Our families’ lives are, mercifully, hidden most of the time; may they be Holy Families and grow in holiness.

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20 December, Simon says II: In her.

She said those words, ‘Thy will be done’.

In her God’s gracious will had won.

Simon’s couplet sent me to this painting from Plowden Catholic Church in Shropshire. Mary seems to be having a moment of weariness, such as any parent will have undergone, and her Child seems anxious to comfort her.

Here they are, far from home in Egypt. Is Joseph his own boss, self employed as he had been in Nazareth, or is he out all day, at the beck and call of an employer, who might expect him to work extra at short notice? Does Mary sew or launder to help make ends meet in the big city?

At any point after she said those words, Mary’s life will have had problems. There were many more difficult years after the Holy Family returned to Galilee; if Mary thought her troubles were over, they had only just begun.

Most of her appearances in the Gospels are challenging. Even heartbreaking. She was not mentioned on the day the mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff near Nazareth, but she must have been there. And so it went on until Good Friday.

Thy will be done: giving birth in the stable probably also meant Mary didn’t have her little home-made layette with her. All her preparations apparently wasted; no doubt some other family  benefited, but she and Joseph had to start from scratch: that gold the Wise Man brought must have come in useful!

Thy will be done: it will be, but it probably won’t be done smoothly!

More from Simon soon!

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20 June, Corpus Christi: Temptation lingers.

 

Our friend Christina Chase recently wrote that ‘Temptation lingers in desert spots‘ – which is perfectly true. It’s so easy to get things out of proportion.

But what did the children of Israel  wish for, out there in the desert? The fleshpots of Egypt, not a closer walk with God.

The children of Israel said, ‘Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ (Exodus 16:3)

And when they were in Egypt, they were oppressed so hard they could not stand – yet they’d rather go back to slavery than walk as free men and women with God. Of course spiritual slavery is more subtle than that. Who are the false gods we are tempted to put before the true One?

God heard his people, but did not answer their despair with thunderbolts to fulfil their death wish. No, he sent mercy, like the gentle rain from heaven, in the form of manna. He sustained them on their travels.

As we will be sustained:

[They said], Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. (John 6:31-33)

It’s a scandal that Christians are not united at the Lord’s table.

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30 December: The Holy Family

flight.egypt.amsterdam

Before Amsterdam had numbers for houses, people used plaques on their walls to identify their home or business premises. Perhaps this one belonged to one of the many exiles living in what was then a small city on a marshy riverside. Here is Joseph taking a watchful Mary and Baby away to Egypt; He has his tools with him, including one very long saw. Perhaps he cut his own planks from the tree, or maybe it pleased the artist’s eye to show it at the pinnacle of the picture. Joseph may have given up his business but he was not giving up work.

Exile was a serious business, true enough, but Joseph was able to start work in Cairo and support his family. (The Franciscan church there that bears his name is said to be near the Holy Family’s home.)

Here is a prayer from USPG.

O God, who made your home among us in Jesus of Nazareth, we pray for those who have been forced from their homes and now live as migrants and refugees. Bless them and all who work to bring them relief, comfort and a new home.

Amen.

We could pray, too, that refugees may be allowed to find work and education in their exile, that they may be better equipped to help restore their homeland when they are able to return.

 

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Christmas Greetings

flight.egypt.amsterdam

Wishing all our followers, friends and readers, regular or occasional, a blessed Christmas, and a New Year where Peace prevails.

We remember that many are forced to be away from home, or without loved ones, especially for the first time, or facing illness or poverty; and pray that the Peace that surpasses understanding will find its way into their hearts.

God Bless us all,

Will and Team Agnellus.

The Flight into Egypt from a plaque at Amsterdam’s City Museum.

 

 

 

 

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22 September: Saint Maurice, a book review.

Looking back, I realise that my teacher Miss ‘Killer’ was an ignorant woman. She ridiculed children who had not been baptised with what she considered to be appropriate saints’ names. ‘There’s never been a Saint June!’ she once spat, instead of saying, ‘You could stick with Saint Jane or Saint Joan.’ As for ‘Royston’! ‘What kind of a name is that?’ Life was miserable if you were on the wrong side of her, as a good 75% of us regularly were. I’m glad she did not pick up on the idea that Saint Maurice did not exist; it would have been another stick to beat me with. And I mean beat.

The theory was that since there were no contemporary accounts of Maurice and his companions, they were more likely a group of saints invented to make sense of a mass grave found in Switzerland in 383 AD, said to have been Christian legionaries executed for refusing an immoral order.

Donald O’Reilly in Lost Legion Rediscovered  settles the Question to his and my satisfaction: there was a Christian Theban legion – from the Egyptian Thebes, not the Greek one – and in the late 3rd Century civil war its members were killed in great numbers for disobeying an immoral order, and this happened not only in Switzerland’s town that bears his name but across North West Europe.

O’Reilly’s detective work is well worth reading, giving insight into Roman civil and military life of the time, and into Christian attitudes to military service. Yes, St Maurice did exist, an African in Europe, which is why his town is now the focus for the annual African pilgrimage to the saints of Africa every June.

Here is part of a speech attributed to Maurice by a later writer (p121 of O’Reilly’s book).

Our right hands know how to fight against wicked men and enemies; they do not know how to cut into pieces innocent men and fellow citizens. We remember we took up arms on behalf of citizens rather than against citizens. We have always fought on behalf of justice, on behalf of the safety of the innocent; up to the present time this has been the reward of our dangers. We have fought on behalf of the faith; and how are we to keep our faith towards you – the words are addressed to the emperor – if we do not show forth faith to God?

 

Donald O’Reilly, Lost Legion Rediscovered, Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2011.

MMB

 

 

 

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